Heading beyond DSL

Although demand for broadband remains limited, Paul Budde provides an update on the alternative systems being deployed in Africa to provide high-speed internet access

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By  Richard Agnew Published  December 8, 2003

|~||~||~|The implementation of broadband networks in Africa is still very limited - with many providers struggling to ensure universal service of basic voice services. This not only takes the focus away from broadband initiatives, it also shows there is no critical mass of consumers that would use broadband services.

Only a few countries have introduced commercial Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) services, including South Africa, Egypt and Mauritius, while pilot programmes are underway in some countries including Morocco.

Fixed wireless broadband, including Local Multipoint Distribution Systems (LMDS) and Multichannel Multipoint Distribution Systems (MMDS), are emerging as the leading broadband systems, due to their flexibility and the fact that their deployment is being driven by private service providers.

The rapid spread of mobile telephony also provides opportunities for mass internet access via broadband wireless technology. A single mobile phone with Wireless Application Protocol/Wireless Internet Protocol (WAP/WIP) capability has the potential to allow the mass user base instant connectivity, as opposed to the high start-up cost of access for traditional terrestrial services.

Therefore it is possible that, with the rapid adoption of mobile telephony and the subsidisation of handsets by operators, this type of internet communication with higher bandwidth capability will be readily adopted rather than traditional broadband.

A few countries have started auctioning frequencies for specific Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) applications, including Botswana, Ghana and Nigeria. Other countries such as Lesotho and Morocco are investigating the technology. BWA wide-scale commercial deployments are happening in Botswana, South Africa and Nigeria. At the same time, small-scale BWA private network deployments are occurring in Mauritania, Egypt and elsewhere.
Because broadband internet access technologies such as ADSL or high-speed cable are not widely available in Africa, low cost satellite services are being used to create reliable telecom links wirelessly, completely bypassing the traditional telephone systems.

This has obvious benefits in almost all countries in Africa where communication links are either non-existent or unreliable, and in all cases very expensive to implement and maintain. The key advantage of using satellites and digital technology to provide internet users with access to the network is speed, with satellite offering more bandwidth than a standard terrestrial line.

Satellite is also ideal for large intranet users as it offers consistent high-speed internet access across a wide geographic area in a rapid and cost-effective manner. It is suited to the asymmetric nature of most intranet and internet transactions requiring capital investment only where there is demand, and can be deployed and redeployed with relative ease.

Incoming bandwidth is beginning to outpace outgoing bandwidth in Africa, due to the increased use of data broadcasting services being installed by ISPs. In Southern Africa this service is provided by four South African companies, including, Infosat, Siyanda, Hixsat and GIT.

These services cover larger, regional parts of the continent. Such systems allow ISPs to limit traffic on their high cost existing links to outgoing data only, and use a low-cost TV satellite dish to receive higher volumes of incoming traffic.

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